Laying the Foundations: 8 Usability Essentials for Increasing Online Revenue

Regardless of how (or if) you currently have a commercial strategy for your website, there are many usability foundations that are often overlooked to the detriment of your revenue potential. If you are; ad-funded, subscription funded, an e-commerce site or an affiliate lead generator, your commercial model(s) will benefit immensely from these simple usability tips. Even if you have a sophisticated online product, or a well designed ad solution; your commercial success will be limited unless your site can be easily reached, navigated, read and shared. Follow these simple tips to help increase page impressions, extend average visit times and improve revenue performance.

1. Ensure your site will load without the 'www' prefix.

Ensure your .ht access file captures URL type-ins without the 'www'. Unless'told' otherwise, any URL entry should resolve to 'www' as a matter of course. Failure to make this simple change could result in users thinking that your site is down, broken, or over-capacity -  none of which look particularly welcome or professional and mean you may have lost a potential customer.

2. Ensure your logo defaults to 'home'.

When a function becomes a common convention; such as clicking on the website logo taking you to the homepage, this then feeds audience expectation. So much so, that we often use a website logo to go back to the home page rather than any other navigation convention, as the logo tends to be the biggest, brightest (and therefore quickest) single-click route home. It is essential to adopt this practise, as users may seek to re-orient themselves within your content, starting again from the homepage, if they do not find the content they sought on first attempt.

3. Clear and consistent navigable element

What good is all that excellent content, surrounded by beautiful ad modules if nobody can find it? Even if you get lots of traffic from search engines (have good Search Engine Optimisation) - you won't be encouraging repeat visits or further tours through your content unless you have a clear primary navigation element which remains in the same place throughout the site. Best-practise sites nearly always have a horizontal primary navigation element, with second and third level navigation being on a left hand side menu. It is not compulsory to have your navigation like everyone else; the most important thing is consistency.

4. Clickable breadcrumb

A breadcrumb trail shows the user their path through your site and content. Many Content Management Systems will automatically generate a breadcrumb for you by picking up the page title and its position in the content hierarchy to display a simple trail. Additionally, if a user has arrived at a content page on your site via an external link or a web search, a quick glance at the breadcrumb gives the user an immediate picture of where they are and may encourage an extended visit if the original content was relevant and of interest.

5. Font size 12pt minimum or scalable

Web accessibility is the practise of making your website as accessible as possible to as many people, including those with physical impairment. Web accessibility is a considerable separate topic in itself, and as well as the legal and ethical obligations to ensure your website is as accessible to all as possible, there are very good business reasons to do so as well. If there is one single accessibility tip for increasing your revenue potential, it is to ensure your content is at least 12pt or can be scaled. According to the RNIB at least 2 million of the UK population are visually impaired, which is a significant consideration as a percentage of your customer base. Ensuring that your primary content is at least 12pt, preferably scaling larger, will ensure that you are not discounting this community.

7. Add a searchbox

Adding a searchbox is one of the single biggest wins for any website seeking to improve incremental revenues. If you are an e-commerce site (regardless of how simple and logical your navigation) users tend to favour a searchbox, rather than a directory, to find the product they seek. If you generate revenues from adverts on your content pages, adding a searchbox will allow you to surface relevant content more often. Again here, providing a free-text entry search box promotes a quicker route from intent, to content and the more relevant the content to the user query, the more relevant any ad or product content should be.

8. Searchbox look and feel

Regardless of whether your search box is a direct source of revenue (search results contain products or ads) or an indirect source of revenue (search results contain content pages with complementary advertising - therefore raising ad impressions), there are a set of look and feel practises to adhere to which promote greater and more successful use of the search facility.

  • Make the searchbox a minimum of 26 characters wide (not high) and for e-commerce sites between 26 and 50Â Â characters is optimal. Our Yahoo! experience tells us that bigger is better - as user queries become more sophisticated and 'query string' length increases
  • Do not put any text ('search here...' 'put your search here' etc) in the searchbox as when scanning the page for the searchbox we tend to look for the 'big white space'. Even allowing for the varying levels of user sophistication pre-filling a searchbox is definitely not necessary and may cause confusion
  • Position your search box top right, or top and centre (close to primary navigation) both positions are a conventional best-practise and promote greater search engagement through ease of searchbox identification

Making these simple tweaks to your existing site, or ensuring that these usability foundations are an integral part of any new build, will ensure efficient revenue performance. Improving incremental revenue performance is a quick win and if you are lucky enough to attract hundreds of thousands of page impressions a month, such a win could be considerable. If you're not on this scale yet, ensuring usable and efficient performance of your commercial website is an important part of getting you there!

Apr 30 2009
Nichola Stott
Nichola Stott

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